If you’re like most people, you’re more afraid of public speaking than you are of death.

PS3I’m fine with death, though I’m in no rush to try it out. But there was a time that I was absolutely shit-scared of opening my yap in front of a group larger than four… maybe five at the most. And I bet that you get at least butterflies, maybe trembles, or probably the runs before making a presentation. Maybe you’ll even go to extreme lengths to avoid public speaking like I did such as faking illness, manipulating others to cover for you, and flat-out running away.

PS12I have no idea what the psychological cause of my glossophobia was (that’s the term for the fear of public speaking), because in high school I had no problem getting up in front of my friends. When I went to post-secondary education, things changed. It was triggered in my first class with strangers where I simply had to do an around-the-room read from a script.

Coming close to my turn, all the classic phobia signs of not being in my comfort zone materialized. Pulse pounding. Trembles. Shakes. Chills. Dry throat. Gut-cramp. Then a total breakdown in confidence and wide-eyed terror – visualizing that I was about to be publicly humiliated in front of all these strangers.

I froze. The instructor tried to prompt me, but all I could muster was some pathetic excuse that I didn’t have glasses and I couldn’t read the words. The class moved along but I regressed – spiraling down to a dismal lack of self-confidence. I left the room and didn’t come back.

PS11Five years later, after hiding from every chance of public speaking, I landed in the police academy with the same secret baggage. ‘Effective Presentation’ was part of the curriculum and I watched it approach on the syllabus with sleepless fear. I would’ve sooner stood-in for a range target than speak before thirty-one other recruits – even though they were now my friends.

I was so tense when speech-time came. I finally confided in my troop-counsellor who told me that pretty much everyone goes through this.

I thought I was the only one.

PS4He worked with me to make a ‘Fear of Public Speaking’ presentation to the troop and it was life-changing – not just for me – but for many other rookies who suffered from the same phobia and were thinking exactly as I was.

I wasn’t the only one.

Over the years I’ve had nervous setbacks but never a humiliating loss of control, though it’s come shakingly close.

PS5In my career as a homicide detective I’ve been on the witness stand in front of a jury and a crowded courtroom many times – once for five days straight. That’s public speaking on steroids – like being stripped naked and tied to the fountain-clock in a shopping mall. As a coroner I’ve done inquests and, as a writer, I’ve done radio and TV interviews reaching over a hundred thousand.

This afternoon, I’m doing an hour-long internet podcast on causes of death and, this September, I’m presenting the biggest in-person speech of my lifetime at the International Conference on Forensic Research and Technology in Atlanta on the evidence in the JFK Assassination. There’ll be three to four hundred in that crowd with far, far more forensic accreditations than I’ll ever have.

Am I nervous?

You bet.

How will I handle it?

First of all, I’ll be myself.

PS8That’s the number one ‘trick’ to public speaking. Just be yourself and say what you know. People inherently recognize genuineness. If you try to be someone you’re not, the audience will see right through you and you’ll bomb. Be yourself and you won’t fail.

Here’s more tips for building your public speaking confidence and effectiveness.

  • Prepare – Know your material and know your audience
  • Rehearse – Practice your presentation
  • Believe – Know that you’ll do fine
  • Re-live – Recall previous successes
  • Visualize – See yourself succeeding
  • Research – Again, know your material
  • Engage – Start your presentation by asking something
  • Humor – Don’t be too serious
  • Produce – Give them a take-away to remember
  • Collaborate – Bring a resource on-stage
  • Prompts – Use visual aids like PowerPoint, whiteboards, and flipcharts
  • Repeat – There’s nothing like experience to improve your skills

PS7Here’s one little trick that I learned about settling the physical jitters. Pressing on your solar plexus triggers a relaxation in the central nervous system and it looks totally natural. Trust me… this works. Only don’t press too hard or you’ll knock yourself out.

What are your thoughts about public speaking? Anyone else have some tips? I’m dying to hear your words.


  1. Belinda Pollard

    Garry, I can so identify with this. I was always terrified of public speaking, but got roped in to do it on various occasions. Each time, I would pretty much have a stomach upset from the time I knew I had to do it until the time that it was over.

    Then, back in the 90s, I studied theology. It’s been a big interest of mine, and I enjoyed the study enormously. What I wasn’t counting on was that they would expect me to learn to preach, even though I never intended to become a minister! Omigosh, the terror of all that.

    But the funny thing was, I found that the more I did it, the shorter the duration of my pre-terror. Instead of being terrified for weeks before, it shrank to hours before. And then only minutes before.

    And, weirdly, I began to find I enjoyed it. Some people bungee jump; I speak in public. 😉

    Three years ago, I joined Toastmasters, to brush up on my skills. That’s been an excellent “sedative”, if I can put it that way. Practising speaking, often off-the-cuff, week after week around people you get to know, helps to give a level of immunity to the fear. Yes, there’s still that rush when appearing in a new situation before strangers, especially if it’s an intimidating setting of experts or whatever. But it’s more controllable.

    Thanks for sharing these great tips, and best wishes for your big upcoming presentation!!

    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      Hi Belinda! Thanks so much for your straight-from-the-heart insight. You’re bang-on in how practice makes perfect and it’s the only cure for the nerves that I know of. The mind is a funny thing. The whole nervous thing is a mindset. There’s no difference between speaking to a couple of people vs a crowd, but for some reason there’s an artificial amplification in the ratio of knee-trembles to eyeballs looking at you.

  2. Sue Coletta

    Is there a link to the podcast? I’d love to hear about the different causes of death. I have to live pitch my book in two weeks and I’m already panicking. And that’s only in front of one person! I can’t even imagine doing it in front of a crowd.

    Good luck! I’m sure you’ll knock ’em dead.


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